The Languages of Collegiality

May 30th, 2012


By , BSN, RN

Bullying amongst and between nurses receives a lot of attention. It’s a problem, it does exist, and we can fight against it. I think the opposite of bullying, in the workplace, is collegiality and better methods of building a collegial work environment have been coming at me from all directions lately.

I received a collegiality CEU in the mail recently. The other day when I checked my e-mail for the hospital at which I work, our weekly newsletter had a column from the big boss on the “Language of Caring” and how she would like to see it implemented in the OR. Seems like we’ve been beating up on each other a lot lately.


Another nurse I am acquainted with, Joyce Damon, RN, OCN, is also a blogger who last month devoted one entry to the Japanese movement known as Genshai. It is an ancient word, which means you never treat anyone in a manner that would make them feel small, including yourself. Joyce realizes she is optimistic about such a movement being adopted by all nurses but she hopes for at least a couple of converts. So, clearly, there is some kind of movement out there asking us (nurses) to behave better—with one another, with other clinical colleagues, with our bosses and, of course, with out patients and their families.

At my hospital job we first approached this whole topic last month in a staff meeting. It was presented as “we have the opportunity to improve our communications and show our caring through the Practice of Presence.”

The Practice of Presence

Presence is the gift of your undivided, respectful attention. When you’re PRESENT to another person, your mind is not wandering, nor are you thinking about something else. In interactions with patients, families, and people within your department as well as outside colleagues, by demonstrating great presence, we can make them feel valued. Also we can get to the heart of the matter more quickly, so we can address needs appropriately. Sound advice.

This can apply pretty much everywhere and it will actually make your day more pleasant and more efficient. Pay attention to patient report, be present and listening when the client’s family or the nurses aide tell you about an unusual occurrence and when the physician calls in a new set of orders it lessens the likelihood of error.

Now, my boss and the other powers that be brought all this back to the table via our department newsletter. They want the staff to share their success stories of caring communication. I think they are mostly reminding us to keep at it and to refine our skills. My favorite encouragement was, “Remember it takes at least 30 days for a new skill to become a habit, so don’t forget to practice and incorporate into your daily work.” She sounded a little like Mom but my boss is a very nice woman. And, her intent is clear—we’ve been behaving badly and it needs to stop.

Choosing Civility

P.M. Forni, PhD, in his book “Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct” provides some insight on further emphasizing a caring approach to colleagues and others through these 25 rules. I thought I would share the list of rules, as many of them support a positive work environment and provide us some additional guidance.

The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Acknowledge others.
  3. Think the best.
  4. Listen.
  5. Be inclusive.
  6. Speak kindly.
  7. Don’t speak ill.
  8. Accept and give praise>
  9. Respect even a subtle “no.”
  10. Respect other’ opinions.
  11. Mind your body.
  12. Be agreeable.
  13. Keep it down (and rediscover silence).
  14. Respect other people’s time.
  15. Respect other people’s space.
  16. Apologize earnestly.
  17. Assert yourself.
  18. Avoid personal questions.
  19. Care for your guest (co-workers).
  20. Be a considerate guest.
  21. Think twice before asking for favors.
  22. Refrain from idle complaints.
  23. Accept and give constructive criticism.
  24. Respect the environment.
  25. Don’t shift responsibility and blame.

Now obviously not all these will apply to every exchange, or in every environment. But they are good advice.

I know I always wonder, when I witness bad, rude, or bullying behavior if this is how these people behave at home or with their loved ones. I often think yes and hope no. However, if we are serious about behaving better towards our colleagues and at our workplace, shouldn’t it hold true that we will carry those new skills home and that might be a better place to be too.


Many years ago, as new nurse I worked at Georgetown University Hospital. For the most part I really enjoyed my time there. During those years the hospital came up with what they called their C2C initiatives (as I remember it). The first was “Commitment to Caring.” Made sense, we were a hospital. But, that C2C included caring about our coworkers and our community, not just our clients.

The next initiative was “Commitment to Communication.” It was dedicated to everything from identifying yourself when you answered a phone to giving/taking patient report to how you spoke to colleagues and clients (you know, it’s not what you say but how you say it).

I will admit, the staff made a lot of fun of this stuff. But, it must have made an impact because we worked at it, we wore the C2C pins on our nametags, and 10 years down the road I still remember it.

Bullying and bad behavior is nothing new in nursing or outside the workplace walls. It is in the news, it is the focus of speeches at our conventions, it is taking up valuable time and space in staff meetings and weekly newsletters. And it is sucking away the best part of our lives.

So, whether you buy into the “Practice of Presence,” or “Genshai,” or you choose “Civility” or “C2C” it is time for all of us in the nursing profession to pony up. I for one, would prefer to be known as a good nurse and not see people’s eyes roll when I walk into an OR.

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